Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Hero of the Empire

Candice Millard, Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill (New York: Anchor Books, 2017), 382 pages including index, notes and a selective bibliography plus 16 pages of black and white photos and two pages of maps.

As the 19th Century drew to a close, Great Britain was as powerful as ever and a young Winston Churchill was dying (or at least willing to risk death) for fame. His goals were set high.  After serving in the military in India and the Sudan and as a military observer with the Spanish in Cuba during the revolution there just before the Spanish American War, the young Churchill ran for parliament. He lost, but this was first displayed his unusual talents of public speaking. Although he was only in his mid-20s, Churchill felt that his life was rushing away. He was also more than a little disturbed by his beautiful American mother (his father was deceased by this time) flirting with men not much older than him.  So when war broke out in South Africa with the Boers, Churchill took the first ship he could find to head south as a war correspondent. 

At first the war wasn’t going very well for the British. The Boers were fiercely independent and loyal to their homeland and were armed with better weapons than the British. Although the British had finally given up their red coats for khaki, they still fought as they had in the American Revolution, in lines that marched toward the enemy.  The Boers were masters at concealment (which the British felt was cowardly). But concealment was effective against the British discipline.  

Churchill traveled across the country by train and then ship to arrive where the fighting was underway. Once there, he volunteered to go along with risky missions including riding an armored train that would be used to spy upon the Boer’s movements. Of course, the train being limited to tracks, provided little useful information and made itself a sitting duck.  As the train was heading down a hill, the Boers caused it to jump track and then attacked, killing and capturing many of the British soldiers. Among those captured was a war correspondent, Churchill, who had essentially taken over command of the train and helped get it back on track allowing for part of the detachment to escape. The rest were taken to Pretoria where they were held as POWs.

As a POW, Churchill was in danger.  First, the Boers knew that he had been involved in the fighting even though he was a civilian, which was against the rules of war. Those who made it back to the safety of the British lines spoke of his bravery, which reached back to Britain. He was also the son of Lord Churchill, who had spent time in South Africa before his death and seemed to have upset everyone, especially the Boer population. But after a few uncertain days, the Boers allowed Churchill to stay with the officers, who were given a lot of privileges including buying luxuries, such as liquor and cigars, as well as receiving packages. While imprisoned, Churchill developed a wild plan for an escape. The officers would overpower the guards, then free the enlisted men. Together they would capture the Boer capital and end the war. That idea was shot down, but eventually another plan developed where three of them would escape together. 

Of the three, only Churchill was able to make it over the wall and then had to find a way to travel 100s of miles to reach Portuguese East Africa. Stealing away in a train, he headed across the country, which got him out of Pretoria.  He eventually finds his way to an English mine superintendent who, with the help of a merchant who exported wool, managed to slip Churchill out of the country.  

Churchill, once he made his way back to the British forces, is commissioned an officer and continues to fight (but we are only provided a brief summary of his war experiences).  After the war is over, Churchill returns to Britain as a hero and begins his rise in the political ranks. 

This was a book I read for a men’s book club of which I’m a member. I enjoyed it and found it a fast read.  However, there are some gaps. As this is a story about Churchill, Millard never really tells us how Britain’s as able to gain the upper hand in South Africa.  She tells some of Churchill’s military involvement in India and mentions the Sudan, but I found myself wanting to know more. She tells enough to make the point that Churchill (who wasn’t that religious) did feel he had survived because something great was expected from him. I found Churchill a bit annoying, partly because he felt his greatness was foreordained. Had I been those guys trying to escape the POW prison, I would have probably encouraged Churchill to go off along for it appears he couldn’t keep his mouth shut. In the movie, “Darkest Hour” which I watched with my daughter after Christmas, Churchill is recalling for his wife how he was so struck by her beauty that he was speechless. His wife laughs and said in that case she must have been very beautiful because it would have been the only time in his life in which he was speechless.  I also was shocked with how hard Churchill worked at giving speeches.  A close friend remarked that he spent the best years of his life composing impromptu speeches.  He also had a mild speech and struggled to pronounce the letter “s”, but this he overcame.  

I recommend this book to anyone interested in Churchill.  I now need to learn more of the Boer War!  This is the second book I've ready by Candice Millard. In 2006, I reviewed her book on Teddy Roosevelt's South America's Expedition, River of Doubt I like her writing style and will read more!  

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Catching Up

Heading out

Today was a pretty good day.  We raced this afternoon with one of the J24s our club recently acquired and had a good time even without the 12 knots of wind promised by the forecasters (it was probably more like 8). We came in first, well ahead of other boats.  Then I came back to an oyster roost birthday party for a friend. 

Steaming Oysters

Addressing the Haggis 
The past couple of weeks have been both fun and busy.  On Thursday night I was the keynote speaker at a formal “Burn’s Night” dinner for the St. Andrews Society here.  It was a lot of fun and if I could always have my audience lubricated like that before I speak, I could be a comedian.  Although I tried to pepper my talk with humor, I think I had more laughs than jokes.  I found myself having to go easy on the single-malt before the speech, but I still enjoyed the evening as I waxed on about Clarinda (not her real name), one of the women Robert Burns desired (the rest consisted of most of the female population of Scotland in the late 18th Century.

Mia's rehab
And a quick update on Mia.  This rescue dog isn’t cheap. I knew she had to lose some weight (and she has) but she also appears to have a knee problem in her back legs.  She is currently in rehab and seems to love the underwater treadmill.  I mentioned that I would like such a contraption myself and was informed that for a mere $40,000 I could own one. Maybe I’ll put that on next year’s Santa’s list. Or maybe not.

I don’t say much about the Volunteer Fire Department duties anymore, but I’m still there.  I just keep missing out on the good fires (the four major fires we had last year, I was out of town). I just had a few minor issues such as motors burning up on air handlers and smoking up the house, but not serious fires.  However, we continue to train. The other week we burned a doll house. My first thought was that someone’s daughter’s was going to be pissed, but it turns out this was a doll house built for such a training. They were able to simulate flashovers, backdrafts, and show the various types of smoke and the effect of ventilation on the fire’s progression.  All neat stuff.

As for reading, I am almost finished with John McPhee’s Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process.  I am sure I will write a review of it (I have two other reviews that I need to post, too…).

I also have 2 gallons of sauerkraut fermenting…  Life is good! ;'

Friday, January 12, 2018

Stuff Happening and a belated blog-hop post

The marsh the day after... 
I can’t believe we are well into January and I haven’t posted a thing…  I was planning on a post on the 3rd to advertise Chrys Fey’s new book, but was without power much of that day and the island was closed off as the bridges were way too icy.  We’d had a nice base of ice overnight followed by snow.  The snow made me happy but we never had enough for me to dig my backcountry skis out and then to try to find some wax… 

I was gone the week after Christmas to North Carolina and arrived back in Georgia in time to fix a New Year’s Day feast consisting of turnip greens and beans cooked in the hambone left over from the Christmas ham.  It was good food and the turnip greens were from my garden. 

Mint Jelly
There is a community garden here where you can rent space in a deer and wild pig protected area.  This time of the year, I’m getting lots of turnips and rutabaga and a few beets (they’re not doing as well).  Soon I will began harvesting cabbage and onions.  I am looking for a large crock to fix sauerkraut.   At the house, I raise a few herbs such as mint that could take over the garden.  Knowing that the freezing weather was approaching, I did cut back the mint and made four jars of mint jelly.  Now I need some lamb!

a few of my 30 cabbage plants and onions planted in between 
Two days after the snow I was with friends for a funeral up in Beaufort, South Carolina, at the National Cemetery there.  It is a beautiful spot, made more so by the snow.  Seeing the graves, the Christmas wreaths, palm trees and snow all in the same scene was a bit unique. I do like how all the headstones are the same and how a general can be buried next to a private. The cemetery also have a large number of Civil War graves including a section with each grave marker identifying them as with the U. S. C. T. (United States Colored Troops).  Many of those buried here died in the events highlighted in the movie "Glory." 

Currently, I’m enjoying two wonderful books: Candice Millard’s Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill and Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose. This is the second book I’ve read by Millard and she writes history as if it was a novel.  Years ago I reviewed her book, The River ofDoubt, which is about Teddy Roosevelt’s trip into the Amazon in 1914.  I have read a number of Stegner’s books and have reviewed The Big Rock Candy Mountain  (one of my all-time favorite novels) and Crossing to Safety.

Chrys Fey's new disaster series book is about fire…  With her background in disasters, I’m expecting to see Chrys star as next year’s Mayhem in the Allstate commercials.  Her question for us is what ridiculous thing we would save if our house was on fire (beyond things like your kids or pets).  I have thought about this a lot.  I am not sure that I would save anything ridiculous, but I expect it would be a quilt made by my grandmother or, if I couldn’t get back in the house as that is on a quilt stand in my bedroom, I might just grab the needlepoint she did which hangs in the dining room.  I am still amazed that the backing to this needlepoint is a cloth grain bag.  She did this needlepoint as a young girl in the late 1920s or early 30s. 

Now go check out Chrys book!  Have a good weekend. I hope the sun is shinning where you are, here we are seeming to have a lot of gray days... 
Savannah River looking toward the ports on a gray day